The Braves had a pretty productive offseason, but they didn’t exactly set the world on fire either. Alex Anthopoulos built what projects to be among the best bullpens in baseball with the addition of Will Smith, and re-signings of Darren O’Day and Chris Martin. He also made the Braves one of the deeper teams in the league, with a bench that now consists of two former All-Star outfielders in Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall, as well as Austin Riley or Johan Camargo, whoever loses the starting third base competition. And the cherry on top was Marcell Ozuna, the cleanup bat the Braves desperately needed after Josh Donaldson signed with the Twins, and Anthopoulos was able to bring him in at a bargain — on a one-year, $18 million contract.
The Braves also found a replacement for Brian McCann and given he has fresher legs, Travis d’Arnaud should provide the club a boost behind the plate coming off one of the best years of his career.
I know that when many of you clicked this article, you probably assumed it was a foregone conclusion that the biggest mistake this offseason was not bringing back Josh Donaldson. But re-signing him was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, bringing back Donaldson could have been a move that severely crippled the Braves’ flexibility going forward. On the other hand, the Braves do not have any massive deals on their payroll and likely could have afforded to hand out one risky deal.
However, we are now seeing how short a window can be when long-term contracts go wrong. Take a look at the Cubs’ situation and the Red Sox as well. The Sox already dealt away their best player in Mookie Betts because they could not afford him and packaged up David Price’s whopping deal to clear payroll.
Marcell Ozuna may be a downgrade. However, he is a super talented ballplayer that the team was able to acquire without potentially sacrificing their future. This will allow Austin Riley and Johan Camargo the opportunity to be everyday players, and prevent the Braves from blocking Drew Waters and Cristian Pache. But most importantly, it lets the Braves keep all of their chips to make another move as they see fit. Ozuna gives the Braves a bat in the middle of the order, and they still have one of the most talented lineups in the National League.
To me, the biggest mistake was not bringing in a frontline starter this offseason. Mike Soroka is already at that point, and Max Fried has a chance to be before long, but they are very young. Relying on two pitchers age 26 and under to carry the load for a World Series contender is a tremendous ask. Despite the internal talent, it would have been nice to see them bring in a frontline starter, especially when taking into account the inconsistencies of Mike Foltynewicz as well.
The Braves ultimately ended up bringing in Cole Hamels on a one year deal, who adds a veteran presence and vast playoff experience. He is also an upgrade over Julio Teheran and Dallas Keuchel at this point in their careers, but that is still a ton of production lost from the rotation, and now, the newly acquired lefty has already been announced out for the first three weeks of the season. Hamels on a one year deal was fine, but seeing some of the figures that other free agent starters received was frustrating.
The Braves were never going to be in on the Gerrit Cole’s and Stephen Strasburg’s of the world, but the second tier of free-agent pitchers could have been had at a reasonable cost. Madison Bumgarner, who reportedly had interest in joining the Braves, received a team-friendly 5-year, $85 million contract. Hyun-Jin Ryu, the defending MLB ERA leader, ended up signing a 4-year, $80 million deal with Toronto. For around the same amount of AAV as the Braves paid Hamels, they could have had one of the five ERA leaders in the game from last season.
Perhaps Anthopoulos was not too keen on the outlook of these two as they head into their mid-30’s, but adding one of them could have been a considerable boost to a Braves team that just lost a step on offense. Hamels is still really good; I am just not sure how much he pushes the needle.
Alex Anthopoulos continues to keep making very smart, yet cautious, moves to keep the future of the team intact and the big league club in contention. But one has to wonder when the Braves will make that blockbuster addition, whether it be via free agency or trade, that will put this team over the hump.